Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 87
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The Freedmen's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
In Columbus, Raper was soon confronted with a variety of questions and
problems relating to the status of black children who were either orphans, or whose
parents resided in another state or in some other section of Texas. Raper had no
guidelines on which to depend and had to inquire of headquarters "in what light" he
should view such children and whether or not he was authorized to make provision for
them until they attained their majority if they were not claimed by the parents in the
meantime. Raper also contended that, since emancipation, a number of parents had
abandoned their children and moved to other parts of the state, and wondered what
arrangements he should make for these children.50
For other minors, Raper informed headquarters, he acted as a chief justice,
according to state law, and was binding them out or indenturing them to "good
responsible men" like Harcourt until they turned twenty-one, or if they were girls, until
they were married. The sub-assistant commissioner drew up the agreement to "cover
all possible points" that he could think of. First, he set forth that the children were free,
and stipulated that the individual assuming "control" of the youngster would be
compelled to furnish "good wholesome food, clothing, and medical attendance." In
addition, the children were to receive "kind" and "humane treatment." Raper reserved
for the bureau the privilege of "interfering to prevent anything unjust." In assuming
responsibility for providing homes for children whom the Columbus or Colorado County
black community could not or would not care for, Raper posed a question that suggested
that he was quite ignorant of how children had been integrated into slave families when
their parents were sold or died. He felt that headquarters would concur with his opinion
that it was better for the children of families that did not have competent heads to be
indentured so that they would have a permanent home until they reach majority, with
a responsible person bound to educate and protect them, than it would be for them to
change homes every year, "picking up the vice of every plantation as they go."51
One case, in particular, Raper called to the attention of the assistant
commissioner. In the area was a "weakly" black woman who had six children but
apparently no husband. Until she could make a contract for 1866, the woman, whom
Raper did not name, worked temporarily for a man in return for board for herself and three
of her children. The other three youngsters, in Raper's words, were "running wild over
the country" and some disposition needed to be made of them. If permitted, he could
obtain employment for these specific three children for one, two, or three years, or until
they turned twenty-one. As described by Raper, the mother was improvident and weak-
minded and would not supervise them. Raper had learned that by the ruling of the courts
of Texas, a "fatherless child" was considered an orphan. He wondered whether or not,
since all laws now also applied to the former slaves, he should, in his legal capacity as
sub-assistant commissioner, so "consider them," and when parents could not or would
not provide for themselves or their offspring, whether or not he had the power to make
the best provision, either temporary or long-term, for the youngsters, "always keeping
50 Raper to Gregory, November 29, 1865.
51 Ibid. In the 1866 election, Harcourt ran for district judge, but lost to Benjamin Shropshire (see
Campbell, "Reconstruction in Colorado County," p. 9).
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995, periodical, May 1995; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151394/m1/19/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed April 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.